You know, it’s easy to fight crime if you
have super-human powers like super strength, or can fly, or have abilities like… working
eyes. But what if you’re blind? Can you still protect your neighborhood? Marvel’s Daredevil, now streaming on Netflix,
is a new series featuring the heroic exploits of Matt Murdock who was blinded
by some toxic chemical in an accident, and then gained heightened sensory abilities,
which he later trained with and refined. In the new show, Murdock is like a perfect receiver
able to pick up on all the information that is normally invisible to us. Imagine him as
a radio and the world is nothing but chaotic static. When needed he tunes into very specific
things like the smell of a wound — or he can tune into twenty “stations” at once
to create a larger picture of his surroundings. But if you wanna be just like the man without
fear, you must first make sure that you’re not always bumping into stuff. In other words,
you must learn to echolocate and some humans actually do it. First off, how does anything see with sound?
Echolocation in animals like bats or dolphins is basically biologically-based sonar.
Or, SOund Navigation And Ranging. For example bats can pick out millimeter-wide
insects in the dark of night by bouncing sound waves off of them. Animals that echolocate
do this, they make sounds and then listen for those sounds’ echoes to determine where
objects are around them in space. How quickly the echo returns, and how loud it is, lets
the animal infer where the object is and its basic size and shape. Is this what Daredevil is doing?
Well, not technically. The basis for Matt Murdock’s skills comes from an ability to
hone in on more than just radar-like information. Daredevil can smell and hear and feel more
of the world than we can, and it’s the combinations of all of his senses that let him fight crime.
But a real-world Matt Murdock could use some form of echolocation to pinpoint enemies in
space by bouncing soundwaves off of them and listening for the echoes that return.
But here’s the thing about this Daredevil-like ability…you have it too, you just don’t
notice it. Have you ever tried to get around your house
with your eyes closed? Well then you’ve probably had that unnerving tingle that you
are about to bump into something. When scientists studied this sensation in the 40s and 50s,
blind patients referred to this as “facial vision” because they could feel some sort
of pressure on their face associated with this feeling. What we think was going on is
that these blind patients were interpreting auditory information as in the echoes from
their voice and their movements and processing it as tactile and visual information, the
pressure, and feeling that they’re about to bump into something.
This is our hint that any human might be able to be Daredevil-like. The first thing to realize is that you have
way more than just 5 senses. For example, close your eyes. No seriously,
close your eyes for a second. Now hold your hand in front of your face. You can kind of
tell where it is just by speaking, right? And just by feeling where it is in front of
you. That’s called proprioception, and it’s another—open your eyes—and it’s another
kind of sense that is beyond the five that we normally think of. We don’t consciously
focus on the sense and it more or less operates in the dark kind of like our rudimentary form
of echolocation. To strengthen the sense like Daredevil did, then you would have to pay
more attention to these streams of data that are coming into your senses, pick out the
important ones, and focus on those. Research has found that the blind people who have
actually learned to echolocate don’t have better hearing than you or I, they just process
auditory information in a different way. For example look at this guy, Daniel Kish. He’s
blind and riding a bicycle. He also teaches others like himself how to echolocate.
When we’ve done brain scans on people like Daniel Kish we’ve found that when they are
making clicks and listening for the echoes, areas of the brain associated with visual
and spatial processing are lighting up and not necessarily just auditory areas of the
brain. What this research tells us is that the brain
is plastic enough, it can change enough that it is able to re-route information to make
different sense of the same data. It can bring the visually impaired closer to a Marvel superhero
than anyone thought. We may not all have the ability to fly or
to have heat vision, but in a very real sense we all have the basic abilities that Daredevil
has. With a little bit of re-wiring, the human brain can do incredible things and we
can all be some version of this superhero. Why? Because Science! [click, click] [sliding
down glass] Want more science? Check out another Marvel
video of mine where I explain the science of Tony Stark’s flight. Click to Nerdist to subscribe for more videos. If you want Because Science two days earlier than anyone else, head to Vessel.com/Nerdist. And as always, if you have any comments or questions hit me up in the comments section below. Thanks!